Can a vitamin or herb stop a cold in its tracks? A growing body of research is shedding light on whether three popular remedies (vitamin C, zinc and echinacea) really work. Here's the real deal:
- Vitamin C: Research shows that while it won't prevent a cold, it may help reduce symptoms and shorten the duration by a half day or more. Neil Schachter, M.D., author of The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds & Flu (HarperCollins) recommends taking 250 to 500mg of this vitamin when the first symptom hits and then daily for as long as you're ill. "It seems to help reduce mucus," he explains.
- Zinc: This essential mineral may prevent the virus from replicating, so your cold won't hit as hard or last as long. While zinc comes in a variety of forms, Dr. Schachter recommends taking lozenges—but make sure you don't have more than two per day. Pop one at the first sign of sickness and continue taking them for two to three days.
- Echinacea: Recently a New England Journal of Medicine study showed that this herb didn't do much to fight a cold, but more research is necessary. For now, Dr. Schachter doesn't recommend echinacea. "There's not much evidence that it's helpful," he says.